Day Five Historical Tour Continues

More from Wednesday, June 5 – UBT Day Five

The Buck O’Neil gravesite whets our appetites for the Negro Leagues Museum. On our way to 18th and Vine, we’re greeted by a mural that covers the entire side of a brick building.

Buck O'Neil Center Ballfield - Kansas City

Below the mural sets a home plate, mound, base paths and a left field wall, which play into the mural. (Finally, a left field wall I could reach on the fly!)

The back of the building features a dugout with several Monarchs players and a young man in a jacket and tie standing next to the team.

Little benches adorn each baseline. Behind home plate is a street corner. Mitch took this photo from across the side street.

Buck O'Neil Center Mural - Kansas CityThis is the John “Buck” O’Neil Center at 19th and Paseo, Kansas City.

After a few phantom pitches, swings, and playful circling of the bases, we continue down the hill toward 18th and Vine. The historic jazz district features the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.

On one corner, we spot the 9th Inning Sports Bar and Grill. Every block sports the 18th and Vine logo.

9th Inning Sports Bar and Grill - Kansas City18th and Vine District - Kansas City

The museum itself resides in the same building with the American Jazz Museum, along with shops and an eatery or two. Had we had more time, we would have enjoyed both.

The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is to the right with a prominent sign: no photography. Good thing for you, because we could’ve filled hundreds of pages with photos. Instead, you’ll have to contend with my radio play-by-play.

Museum workers are inviting and eager to help visitors. Visible from nearly any angle in the place is a mini “ball field” featuring some not-so-miniature statues. Upon entry you witness this central theme and its figures through glass.

Every 15 minutes or so, you can enjoy a brief video presentation from stadium seating. Then it’s a whirlwind tour of equipment, photographs and historical markers preserving a rich period of baseball.

You can learn how various teams and leagues evolved, how they traveled. See a replica of a typical hotel room and a barber shop where baseball was always the hottest topic.

Turn the corner where individual Negro League players are honored with rudimentary lockers full of uniforms, caps, bats, stats, cards and a wealth of history. Mitch and I step on the “field” with the likenesses of these great players

At nearly 6′, I looked up to almost everyone from two generations or more in the past. Each of the players covers a position, (Satchel Paige throwing a pitch to Josh Gibson crouched behind the plate), and practically come to life.

Don’t let the size of the Museum Store fool you. There are plenty of mementos you can take home.

Throughout our visit, I’m torn between the frustration that most of these talented players never were allowed to play in the major leagues; and, the joy of the legendary stories they built of their own merit. For any baseball fan, the museum at 18th and Vine is a must-see.
Brian Williams
From Deep Short

UBT Day Five – Brews & Reflection

Wednesday, June 5, 2013 – UBT Day Five

Mitch and I decide on lunch at 75th Street Brewery to consolidate two must-do items for today. Turns out to be a terrific choice on many levels.

75th Street Brewery - Kansas City

 75th Street Brewery Selection - Kansas City

First, the tender barbecue ribs possess all the flavor you expect. The fries and Scottish Ale provide just the right complements. I also try a Muddy Mo’ Stout as a finisher.

Along with excellent recommendations, our waiter offers a bit of historical data regarding the brewery, a fire and a rebirth from the ashes. We could stay all afternoon, but we have another must-do on our list: the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.

Along our journey toward 18th and Vine, we pass a large cemetery surrounded by stone walls and iron gates. Our Roger Maris gravesite visit in Fargo prompts Mitch to say, “I bet somebody famous is buried here.” I reply, “Hmmm. Maybe Buck O’Neil.” And we both think, “Of all the Kansas City area cemeteries, what are the odds?”

What’s the name of this cemetery? We pull over for some quick smartphone research.

Once again, UBT magic defeats the odds hands-down. This is it!

By sheer chance we enjoy lunch just where we would pass Forest Hill Cemetery on our way to the museum to honor Buck and his colleagues! Then a couple of off-hand remarks (as we are wont to do whenever we’re together, but especially when we drive a couple of thousand miles with one another), and we now have another stop to make.

The sales office is in a small ranch house not far inside the gates. Immediately behind this building stands the Negro Leagues Museum monument to honor Buck O’Neil.

 

Buck O'Neil Memorial - back - Kansas City

Buck O'Neil Memorial - front - Kansas City

When seeing interviews, especially the Ken Burns’ “Baseball” segments, I’d always hoped to have a conversation with Buck. Mitch had been fortunate enough to gain an autograph some years ago.

As Mitch and I admire the majestic monument, a gentleman in a coat and tie approaches from the office. He’s carrying a folded paper and a pen. He compliments Mitch on his throwback Pirates cap, (which Mitch provided for each of us on our very first UBT).

After we talk for a few moments, he informs us that Buck isn’t buried here. At least not at this spot. And he begins to draw a map.Buck and Oka Lee O'Neil Grave Marker - Kansas City

Several yards away in a row of grave markers not unlike any other, lie John J. and Ora Lee O’Neil. A modest gravesite for a man and his long time wife, who lived humbly and joyfully. One of the greatest players to never play in the major leagues.

Brian Williams
From Deep Short

Kansas City, Here We Come

After a few more photos from outside Werner Park, we bid farewell to Omaha and begin our journey toward today’s Game 2 in Kansas City, KS, where the T-Bones await us.

The weather no longer threatens as we travel back into Iowa over a two-lane iron toll bridge. Back to hugging the Iowa-Nebraska state line, we cross into Missouri and eventually sneak into far eastern Kansas. I’d been to Kansas City and the Overland Park area many times, but never for baseball.

Community America Ballpark is nestled near Kansas Speedway and rows of every franchise retailer and restaurant you can imagine. The same light colored brick adorns each building. The entire area appears brand new and well planned.

Community America Ballpark Parking Lot - Kansas City

We park and tailgate (literally, on the truck’s tailgate), wetting our whistles with one of Mitch’s growlers. Families nearby tailgate more traditionally with grills. A gentleman greets us to ask for a match.

As more fans arrive, we make our way across the parking lot to the ticket window. The modern brick exterior is inviting, clean and appearing new although this park is ten years old in 2013.

The T-Bones match up against the Sioux City Explorers tonight. After the miles we covered since Fargo last night, I can’t help but think about the travel for these teams: bus rides covering El Paso, St. Paul, Fargo, Gary (Indiana), and even Winnipeg.

Community America Ballpark Action - Kansas City

Community America Ballpark RF - Kansas CityAlthough we don’t try much more than a craft beer and peanuts, the concessions are varied. The back concourse between first base and the plate opens up to a small street of vendors on both sides, including barbecue platters.

You can walk all around the playing field with the now popular grassy areas beyond right field. The building behind the sloped grass houses games for kids.

Sean Toler in T-Bones Pen - Kansas City

Mitch and I stroll about and stop near the T-Bones pen. We’re intrigued by how close the fans could be to Sean Toler, who begins to loosen for an eventual appearance in the 8th inning. We remain here until Toler gets the call and races toward the mound.

Unfortunately for the T-Bones, Sioux City scratches out an unearned run in the 8th to win a well-pitched game, 2-1. Toler takes the hard luck loss.

After the game we settle into a Holiday Inn downtown on the Missouri side, the only Holiday Inn we’ve ever experienced with a 7-11 attached. We loosely plan the next day over a Slurpee and MLB highlights.

Since we’re staying in the area, we definitely want Kansas City barbecue. We need to decide between two breweries to visit. Plus, we promise ourselves a priority stop before Wednesday night’s game, part of our overall trip plan since January.

Little did we know, UBT magic would take over yet again following a good night’s rest.
Brian Williams
From Deep Short

Day Four – Game 1

As you walk in to Werner Park, you notice a wide open concourse behind the stands. It curves behind home plate and up both base lines. Nothing unusual about that, except it’s really wide, which is convenient. Plus, there’s nothing overhead, so you see signs everywhere alerting you to beware of foul balls. With no warning, two boys near a concession stand almost got nailed by a foul pop behind the plate.

Since today’s promotion was half-price burgers, Mitch and I follow the local crowd to the burger stand at the back of the concourse at third base. The lines are long, but that’s to be expected for half-price burgers.

Plus, waiting in line presents opportunities for conversation. A friendly woman behind us notices our UBT schedule and chats with us. We talk about our trip, about Rosenblatt Stadium, about her granddaughter, (one of the school children who sang an energetic rendition of the Star Spangled Banner).

Weekday day games at every park draw busloads of school-age and pre-school children. This was no exception.

We take our burgers and fries (and craft draughts) to our bleacher seats beyond the left field fence, where we sit among various school groups. Apparently, part of their ticket package includes hot dogs, because their daycare teachers were handing out loads of warm wrapped dogs from large cardboard boxes.

By the time Xavier Nady homers to give the Storm Chasers an early 1-0 lead, the sun shines brightly, reflecting off the bleachers. Memphis Redbird, Jamie Romak, ties it in the 4th with his own long ball. I’m a little sorry that Oscar Tavares is still hurt, but the level of talent and Major League experience on both teams impress.

Werner Park Action - Omaha, NE

The Family Fun Zone, which seems to accompany all Major and Minor League parks these days, remains active to our right, beyond several picnic tables. There’s also berm seating in both left and right fields past our “Fun Porch” bleachers.

Ryan Jackson doubles to greet reliever Donnie Joseph to lead off the visitors’ 6th. Brock Peterson singles him home with the final run. The 2-1 final represents UBT 2013’s first home team defeat.

A crisply played, sun-filled Game One of today’s doubleheader allows for a more leisurely drive to Game Two.

Brian Williams
From Deep Short

Day-Night Twinbill – In Jeopardy?

Tuesday, June 3, 2013 – UBT Day Four

Before we reach the southern border of South Dakota, the dark clouds begin to lift. The threat of rain continues, but small holes of blue sky appear.

Finally, we cross the Missouri River into Iowa and continue south through construction zones and more farms. But definitely more civilization, too; a different feel from the serenity offered by the vast prairies of North and South Dakota.

We cross the bridge at Council Bluffs into Nebraska. When you fly to Omaha, you actually fly into Council Bluffs, which I’ve done many times on business.

Omaha is famous, of course, for hosting the College World Series at Rosenblatt Stadium. I’ve been by the old girl (born in 1947), but never had an opportunity to catch a game there.

Now it’s been replaced. Twice.

The College World Series has a new home. I’ve also been by it during construction. Rosenblatt (and its rich history), unfortunately, is to become an extended parking lot for the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium. Such is progress.

And the Omaha Storm Chasers (formerly the Royals) moved into a new stadium near Papillion. As the sky brightens a bit, Mitch and I pull into the parking lot for today’s 1 PM start.

Wener Park Parking Lot - Omaha, Nebraska

From the lot at Newman Outdoor Field in Fargo to here covers 430-some miles or about 6.5 hours of driving time. But after this game, we need to be back on the road to catch today’s second game at 7, in another city in yet another state.

Brian Williams
From Deep Short